Friday, November 17, 2006

THE CLOCK IS TICKING…

Well, we have less than one week before shooting begins and in the time-honored tradition of low budget movie making, the FREAKING WHEELS are FALLING OFF the go-kart!!

I should’ve listened to Nelson Wong, noted Asian Actor and Paranoid Horoscope Fanatic when he told me we were entering “Mercury Retrograde”.

Apparently this means that because I was born around the same time as the celestial gases cooled and formed the planet Mercury, every time that bloody chunk of space rock spins away from the sun my whole life turns to CRAP!

We've already pushed our start day by a day in order to accomodate our little star, Maxwell Perry Cotton; the first time in history that Dennis the Menace is being played by an actual 6 year old.

But he's worth it, and if it means I have to stay up all night when I get home to prepare the CHRISTMAS celebration I'm hosting at my house for 28 people, well so be it.

However...

Making this movie in Montreal – where we were led to believe that production costs are lower, tax credits and city cooperation is higher and the talent pool is bottomless – has turned out to be an adventure in backroom politics and under-the-table double dealings that makes the Republican Party look like the Sunnybrook Ladies Auxiliary.

(Just look at this picture of me about to go all Charlie Starkweather in a clock tower high over the Montreal harbor -- this thing is aging me so much I look almost 30 years old!)


Sure, production costs are lower; that’s because you can’t actually BUY anything you need! Equipment, vehicles, props, sets, wardrobe – everything seems to be owned either by the same guy or friends and family of the same guy. And in order to get what you want, you literally have to enact a scene out of THE GODFATHER, swearing allegiance AND promising your first-born child into indentured servitude for every grip stand and dressing room you need.

Regarding the tax incentives, well those are pretty much devoured by the endless hours of “discussion” which every creative and technical decision seems to require. I’m told this is a Quebecois trait – the phrase here is “chewing the cabbage”, and it is apparently such a part of the culture that to try to fight it is an insult tantamount to kicking babies.

And as for the “bottomless” talent pool – trust me, we hit bottom VERY early on.

Case in point: our relatively inexperienced casting directors, two guys with big hearts and very enthusiastic spirits, have been doing their best to promote the local actors. In a perfect world, this would be admirable. In our current situation, it has netted me hours and hours of some of the most cringe worthy auditions since the first season of American Idol.

Almost without fail, from the single line bit player up to the supporting roles, dialogue is delivered as if from stone tablets on the Mount. Lines which should melt like a fluffy cloud of meringue hit the ground with such misguided earnestness we are in danger of making “DENNIS THE MENACE: THE SHOAH YEARS”.

The capper came late yesterday. After casting what seemed like a simple part – “Firefighter #2” whose sole task involves a couple lines of yakety yak and a bit of business coiling a hose and replacing a fire ax on the truck – I was informed offhandedly that the actor had “a slight physical challenge”. Unquote.

My blood chilled. “What,” I asked, smiling around the inedible “lunch” delivered from a local restaurant owned (what a surprise!) by a crew member’s uncle, “exactly do you mean by slight?”

The room fell silent. “He has no fingers on his left hand,” my second Assistant Director mumbled, without looking up from her computer screen.

There are many things you can do WITHOUT fingers. Being a fireman is NOT one of them. “Recast”, I said quietly. “Now.”

“But…” my casting director sputtered. “What should I tell the agent?”

I’m not used to having people who work for me talk back. It’s like having the toaster challenge you on how dark you like your bagel. However, I am in a foreign land, with customs not my own. I decided to be diplomatic.

“Tell her I have nothing against his hand,” I replied. “Unfortunately, neither does he.”

And so it has gone…

Fortunately my friend, cinematographer and surrogate brother KIM MILES showed up on the weekend, ready to get to work. He's fresh from shooting 'BLONDE AND BLONDER" the Pam Anderson/Denise Richards epic famous for the moment when Denise tossed a papparaz's laptop computer off a balcony and beaned some little old lady in a wheelchair.

Just having Kim's calming influence around makes me feel like we’re actually going to be able to pull this whole thing off, on time and on budget.

But then, just as it seemed all our crises were being resolved, we received a phone call telling us that Robert Wagner won’t be doing the movie after all. So we are still trying to find our Mr. Wilson. Unfortunately, this requires a rather precipitous tumble down the Hollywood Food Chain and we are now scrambling to find a male star of a vintage who has name value AND doesn't need his Depends changed hourly. Discretion keeps me from listing the names we're considering, but you would be SHOCKED to discover what some of these guys think they're worth. And everytime we think up another great name, a quick check on IMDB.COM dashes our hopes when we find out the actor in question is either 105 years old or dead.

My dream Mr. Wilson -- DON KNOTTS. Currently on location. In that big Mayberry in the sky.

In a show of old school class and studio era manners, RJ himself called me last night to apologize and say he was sorry it didn’t work out. I told him my story about being beaten up for wearing ascots to school during fourth grade in homage to him; he was delighted and hopes we can get together in person when I return to LA after the holidays.

He may have meant it, and frankly I’m going to pretend he did. It may be the only thing that’s gonna get me through the next 25 days!!